Dean's Update

September 9, 2022 - Aron Sousa, MD


Next week, I am submitting a series of proposals for new departments in the college to the College Advisory Committee, the college’s committee for faculty academic governance. This is the first step in an approximately year-long process to create new departments. These new departments are exciting because they expand opportunities for the university’s students and faculty and fill out a group of disciplines not currently in the college. By adding these departments, we will help students interested in Pathology, Radiation Oncology, Dermatology, and Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery (aka ENT). Next month, I will bring forward two more department proposals: Neurosurgery and Urology. If these proposals are successful, faculty from around the state in these fields can have a disciplinary home in the College of Human Medicine for the first time in the history of the college.

Many of you will remember last winter when we started the same process for a new Charles Stewart Mott Department of Public Health based out of Flint. Earlier in the week, that proposal was referred to the Faculty Senate for the one remaining academic governance action before submission to the MSU Board of Trustees for final approval, presumably before the end of the semester. I want to thank the faculty of the current division for all their work making the division successful. I also want to thank all of our faculty in academic governance – not only have our people made a big difference for all of us, they help the university move ahead and grow.

We have not had any new departments in the college since the beginning of the last decade, when we added Emergency Medicine, Translational Science and Molecular Medicine (now called Translational Neuroscience), and Anesthesiology. The first two of these departments have provided our students, faculty, and staff new opportunities for research and education, and we have just started on the path for Anesthesiology with the appointment last month of Michael Lewis as our first interim chair of the department.

Our proposed new departments are designed primarily to provide students with new opportunities. Our college does not have departments for all traditional disciplines medical students enter after graduation, and that means we have made workarounds to help them compete with students from larger schools. This is one of the ways the scope and scale of our partnership with Henry Ford Health, and their culture of strong disciplinary departments in their medical group, brings new strength and opportunities to our people.

In the past, if a student wanted to do a rotation in anesthesia, they did a surgery department subspecialty elective, and the same is true for otolaryngology. This meant their transcript did not really reflect their interest and experience in the fields. Similarly, we had no affiliated residencies for students to engage with and no disciplinary chair to write a letter for their residency application. Overall, we have made this system work for students, but these departments will definitely help our students interested in these fields.

Just as these departments will be good for students, I believe faculty in the university and across the state will benefit as well. For all of the administrative talk from people me about the importance of the university or the college, for faculty, their true academic home is their department. We see this especially in the basic science departments, whose faculty, very reasonably, feel more tied to their department than the college in which they are appointed. It is in departments that faculty are mentored and develop. And, for some of our clinical faculty around the state, we have just not had academic disciplinary homes for them.

I call departments “academic homes” because departments really do function as professional homes. Faculty even talk about “feeling at home” (or not) in their department. These new departments will provide faculty from across the state a chance to engage with new colleagues and mentors. Our faculty will also be able to engage in academic professional societies and research collaborations through these departments. We expect to see more faculty research projects across the university as these departments develop.

These departments will start with faculty based at Henry Ford Health, and then we will add faculty from our communities around the state. The departments will include Henry Ford faculty but will always be college departments reporting to the dean. Each of these departments will bring their own exciting opportunities to the college:

  • The Department of Dermatology will have a large research team and will likely enter the Blue Ridge rankings in the top 15 in the country. They are a large group and have had many leaders in the field for years. Included in their expertise has been work in diversity, equity, and inclusion through pathway programs, efforts to expand the diversity of dermatology residents, and scholarly and educational work to expand the understanding of the presentation of dermatology conditions in minoritized populations.
  • The Department of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery has a remarkable clinical program and very strong research effort comparing well in NIH funding with most of our existing clinical departments. Academic Affairs has already been in partnership with these faculty working on new residency/dual degree programs now under discussion with the college’s MD Curriculum Committee.
  • The Department of Pathology brings the full size and scope of pathology from a huge clinical enterprise like Henry Ford Health. They have a wide range of specialists within their faculty, and a remarkable repository of samples. Their research runs across laboratory and anatomical pathology often leading research programs as clinician scientists or have been leading collaborators with investigators across the country. They are excited to work with our educational programs. Many of you will recall that we once had a pathology department, but that it became a division in the Department of Physiology when it became too small to support as a department. I propose to continue the current division in the Physiology department. Those faculty are well supported by physiology and most of them are researchers or educators financially supported through Physiology, and we see no reason to disturb that structure. As a part of the process, the college will send the relevant proposals to the units with relationships to our proposed departments.
  • The Department of Radiation Oncology will bring an entirely new set of clinical and research partners to the college. We have always had a few pathologists, ENT surgeons, and dermatologists in our system, but we have never had radiation oncology as a part of the college. Given our investments in radiopharmacies in East Lansing and Grand Rapids, imaging science, as well as the FRIB, this department will further our efforts to be world leaders in these fields.

The work to develop these departments is substantial, and there are so many people working on the structures and policies to make them successful. If you do not yet know Melanie Trowbridge, the assistant vice president for human resources in the Office of Health Sciences (OHS), I hope you get the pleasure of working with her soon. She is smart, thoughtful, and dedicated to collaboration that make even the thorniest and most painful parts of administrative life manageable. Her leadership makes so much possible for the colleges of OHS.

I also want to thank all the people at Henry Ford Heath and MSU who have helped the college reach the point of presenting these departmental proposals. Our colleagues at Henry Ford have been great collaborators, and I look forward to working with them more as the process moves ahead.

And, before I close, just a shout out to Drs. Nara Parameswaran, associate dean for faculty affairs and staff administration, and Carol Parker, associate dean for administration, for getting these proposals together in addition to their overfull day jobs. Beware of “additional duties as assigned.”

We do great work at the college, and some of our people are absolutely the best in their fields, but we have lacked the clinical scope and scale for the world to see just how good we are. Adding departments like these helps bring us the scope and scale that will allow us to be recognized as one of the great health institutions. This kind of recognition expands the opportunities available to our students, faculty, staff, and community partners. I am confident that with each new opportunity, the people of the college will make the world a healthier and better place for all.

Serving the people with you,


Aron Sousa, MD FACP


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